Reminiscing Chobe

I am preparing for a photographic trip to Chobe  in mid-October. One of the things I like to do before a trip is to look back over images from previous trips to the same place. This gives me an opportunity to identify gaps in my image portfolio and find scenes and species which I would like to improve on, if possible. There are always new and interesting stories around the sightings on each trip. While looking at images from previous trips it occurred to me that there were many trips and images taken before I started my wildlife blog in mid-2012. This blog shows a few of the images taken on my Chobe trips before mid-2012. 

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”

~ Lewis Carroll

This first scene took place on a sand bank alongside the Chobe river. A troop of baboons was milling around first thing in the morning after spending the night at the top of the large trees next to the river. The youngsters are usually very playful at this time when it is still cool. These two young baboons were nervous as two playground bullies circled them. These two bullies were mischievous teenagers who stalked around them trying to intimidate them. The two youngsters clung on to each other for reassurance. They looked very human-like. Eventually those tempting long tails extended on the sand were just too tempting and the teenagers took their cue.

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The next image was taken from a game vehicle in the Chobe National Reserve and not the boat. In relatively thick vegetation, we came across the Sable bull. He had paused for a drink in the late afternoon summer heat . I always marvel at the glossy sheen of an adult Sable’s jet black coat. It looks as if it has been groomed like a racehorse. This male was still relatively young, as his horns had not yet developed the full extend of their curve. 

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Along the Chobe river late one afternoon, we came across these three Giraffe. They had come down to drink from one of the pools alongside the river. Most animals prefer to drink from the pools separated from the main river, provided the water quality is reasonable. The reason is their fear of crocodiles. The three comprised a female who appeared to be on heat and two very interested males with their entourage of Qxpeckers. The two attending males would not leave her side.

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One morning early, around 6h00, we left the lodge and travelled by boat upstream towards Jackalberry corner.  There in front of us was this magnificent Fish Eagle which had caught a massive catfish (barbel) and was busy having breakfast when we came by. Unfortunately, we disturbed him and he flew off with his partly devoured catfish in one talon. This raptor just oozed power and strength. It was a thrilling sighting and looking this image transports me straight back onto the boat early that morning.

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“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

As you travel upstream along the Chobe river by boat past the army camp, just before you come to the first right hand bend in the river, there is a tree standing with its “feet” in the water. In the high water season this tree collects grass and reeds which provides a great nesting site for water birds. In the semi-shade of late afternoon this Black-crowned Night Heron appeared in preparation for its crepuscular hunting session. These night birds have a stunning ruby-red eye and two long white feathers, which look like a head-dress.

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In summer, the water level of the river subsides and there are many small rivulets. This young Black-winged Stilt was busy hunting in the late afternoon in one such rivulet all on its own.

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We were slowly cruising upstream along the side of the main channel towards the Chobe Game Lodge when this young crocodile climbed onto this dead broken tree stump sticking out of the water. This little crocodile was sunning itself. It is not uncommon to see crocodiles sunbathing to warm up. This little chap posed beautifully for us in perfect light and seemed unfazed by us close by.

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The most ubiquitous Kingfisher along the Chobe is the Pied Kingfisher. You also see Giant, Malachite, Brown-hooded, Woodland and Half-collared Kingfishers along the Chobe in summer. The Pied Kingfishers are year round residents. They make their nests in the sand banks of the islands once the river subsides. As you can see they are capable hunters.

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The Brown-headed Kingfishers do not feed on fish but the abundant insects down next to the river. They have cobalt blue primary wing  and tail feathers which create a splash of colour when they fly. 

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Chobe offers a number of Bee-eaters. This next image is of a Little Bee-eater, the smallest of the bunch but one of the most dazzling with its emerald greens, yellows and oranges finished with some above the eye blue eyeliner. These Little Bee-eaters are also attracted to the river’s edge by all the insects. In summer you will also find the Carmine and Blue-Cheeked Bee-eaters along the river. The Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters are year round residents.

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The Giant Kingfishers do not have the vivid colours of the Bee-eaters and other Kingfishers but are nevertheless strikingly coloured. This is a female identified by the ochre-brown feathers on her breast which look like a bib and in some cases like a bra whereas the male has a waist coat in the same colour. These are the largest Kingfishers on the river and are very skilled fish and crab hunters.

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Providing it is not too windy there is a good chance of finding a Fish Eagle perched on a dead tree stump protruding out of the river, watching and waiting for a hunting opportunity. This was a fully fledged juvenile Fish Eagle. Already it looked like a powerful hunter. Just look at the size of those talons!!

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“Never forget: We are alive within mysteries.”
~ Wendell Berry

A little gem found in the reeds along the Chobe river. There are plenty of Malachite Kingfishers along the Chobe river. They usually operate in pairs and are very fast fliers dashing from one section of reeds to another. This is the smallest Kingfisher you will find along the Chobe. I have never seen a Pygmy Kingfisher along the Chobe river. The Malachite Kingfisher is a very skilled fisherman diving into the water at blindingly fast speeds. These are very small birds but their brilliant colouring gives them away in the reeds as they sparkle like gems..

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In the next image, it had been heavily overcast the whole day but we had gone out that afternoon on the boat anyway. Often even when the light is poor it is fun to just have a “game drive” by boat. At times when there is a thick layer of cloud, there is a break in the clouds when the sun breaks through and the colour of the light can be very unusual as was on this occasion as we slowly floated passed this family of Elephants having an afternoon drink.

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You have to be aware of all the animals in and out of the water along the Chobe river. This is especially true of Hippo. On one occasion we had stopped along the sand bank of one of the islands in the Chobe river. We saw a huge Hippo bull lying asleep about 30 metres away. We were very quiet so as not to disturb him and were photographing the water birds nearby. The next minute the guide shouted to the boat driver to gun it. This Hippo bull had woken up and took objection to us close by and was blundering towards us at speed. Had it not been for the quick reactions of the guide and boat driver we could have had a couple of tonnes of angry bull Hippo on the boat with us, in which case I probably would not be writing this post. That was a close call and we all learnt a big lesson that day. Hippo are territorial and often display their dominance and frustration. The next image shows one of those occasions.

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When on the boat, it is evident how careful the game is when it comes down to the river to drink. The reason is that there are many Nile Crocodiles in the Chobe river, and some are enormous. This large Crocodile rushed into the water as we passed. It had been sunbathing on a sandbank on one of the islands  in the middle of the river. It decided the water was a safer place to be.

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There is an abundance of fish for the Crocodiles to eat but they will take almost anything that comes down to the water to drink with the exception of Elephant and Buffalo. Though even the old Buffalo bulls cross the channels in a group for fear of the larger crocodiles or “flat dogs” as we nick name them. When a Crocodile catches a catfish it will rise out of the water and shake the fish violently from side to side to break off its head, after which it devours the body of the fish.

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The next image shows a bachelor herd of Elephant running along the bank of the Chobe river on the Namibian side. They were being chased by a group of fishermen. You can see a Makoro pulled up into the grass on the left hand side of the water’s edge. These Makoros are a type of canoe which can be up to six metres in length. In the more remote areas these Makoros are crafted from tree trunks, which are painstakingly hollowed out using hand-tools. We could not work out why these fishermen were chasing the bull Elephants. Surprisingly, the Elephants did not stand their ground but perhaps they had some nasty experiences with these types of humans before.

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
~ Albert Einstein

Up near Jackalberry Corner, where three large Jackalberry trees stand as guardians of the channel, there are two inlets with reed beds on each side and large rafts of floating water lilies. These water lilies have large leaves which float on the water’s surface and they attract many insects. The African Jacana’s inhabit these beds of water lilies hunting for food. There is one particular inlet which is called Jacana Alley, where there are many pairs of Jacanas. They seem to be intolerant neighbours because there are frequent spats which make for great photography. The next image is of a juvenile Jacana hunting for insects and little molluscs which live just under the lily pad.

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The Jacanas have long legs and  feet with huge toes which helps them to lily trot. They tend to walk quickly over the lilies so do not sink. If they stand on a lily pad for too long they do start to sink, especially the adults. Jacanas are also good swimmers. The adults usually fly but the youngsters are capable swimmers. Very small Jacana chicks are known to hide under the lily pads when there is danger around.

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In summer, the Yellow-billed Kites migrate back to this area. They are good fishermen and can often be seen catching fish on the water’s surface. This male Yellow-billed Kite was offering a female a gift but she seemed indifferent to his attempts to get her attention. 

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There are many pairs of Fish Eagles along the Chobe river. They perch, roost and nest in the large trees which line the river on the Botswana side. When an adult Fish Eagle takes off from its perch you get a sense of size of these raptors. Obviously, one of the images every photographer wants to get is a Fish Eagle snatching a surface swimming fish from the water. We do not bait the birds so it is very rare to get a natural, unbaited shot of Fish Eagle catching a fish. 

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“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.”

~ Shanti

At the end of an afternoon when making our way back to the lodge to be out of the park by 18h30 in summer, we stop to take some images of the sunset from the boat. Often we are graced by a spectacular show of light and colour at sunset.

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This next image was taken of two young elephants mock fighting in the last of the day’s light. They were on the main island just upstream of the lodges.  We would love to spend more time on the water once darkness falls but the National Park does not allow it probably to give the animals and birds some peace and a break from the human gaze.

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There is a wonderland of animals and bird life to photograph along the Chobe river. One of the big attractions of this forthcoming trip will be the Carmine Bee-eaters. I have been to the Chobe river to photograph many times and each trip is different and each day on every trip is different.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”

~ Roald Dahl

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

2 thoughts on “Reminiscing Chobe

  1. Have been running around like a headless chicken to get all my ducks in a row for our upcoming trip!! haha. Your blog had just now set the mood, excitement and anticipation for the following few days. Thanks Mike!!

  2. Good morning Mike

    We are going to Eagles Nest in November​. Am I correct in understanding that you acquired a mounting for your camera that fixed on to the vehicle? If you did and it worked well would you mind giving me an idea of what it was and where it can be bought? I have seen some in Strydom Park Cameratek but I am not clear what there is available on the vehicle for attachment.

    Kind regards

    Sue

    PS I LOVE all your photos, you have such a variety and such an understanding of the behavior of the animals involved, it makes it so interesting.

    *Sue Goodman* 076 762 6175 (cell) 0865107167 (fax) sue.goodman43@gmail.com

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